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Cruz, Perry Warm Up in New Hampshire Forum

The two White House hopefuls from Texas participated Monday night in the last major GOP forum before part of the 2016 field meets for its first official debate.

Former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz

With three days remaining until the first Republican presidential debate, the two hopefuls from Texas joined a dozen other competitors Monday night for something of a dry run, sounding familiar notes while avoiding direct contrasts. 

Speaking separately at a New Hampshire forum, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry gave early primary voters a preview of their pitches for the debate Thursday in Cleveland, which Perry is currently at risk of missing out on due to eligibility requirements.

For the former governor, the pre-debate forum was an opportunity to boast of his gubernatorial record securing the border and turning Texas into a job-creation juggernaut. For Cruz, the event gave him a prime-time platform to sound the alarm about President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and remind supporters of his fights against members of both parties in Washington. 

It was all familiar territory for the two Texas Republicans, who along with their competitors kept the drama to a minimum, offering up only broad differences with their GOP foes. The event was more a series of lightning round interviews than a debate, with each candidate questioned individually for several minutes. 

Asked about making the economy grow at a higher rate than it currently is, Perry trumpeted one of his favorite statistics, pointing out one-third of all jobs that were created in the country happened while he was governor.

"Well, it’s one of the reasons I’m a little bit more than just a passable expert on that because the state of Texas created more jobs than anybody in this room over the course of the time that I was the governor," Perry said.

Cruz also fit in general contrasts with his GOP rivals. Reiterating his vow to "make 2016 a referendum on repealing Obamacare," Cruz needled members of his own party who see it as a fool's errand to try to roll back Obama's signature health-care law. 

"There are a lot of politicians in Washington that have largely given up," Cruz said. "They don't believe Obamacare can ever be repealed, including, sadly, a fair number of Republicans." 

The forum also contained a bit of deja vu for Perry. Asked which federal agencies he would eliminate as president, Perry alluded to his infamous moment on the debate stage in 2011 when he forgot the third department he would cut.

"I've heard this question before," Perry quipped before discussing the need to shrink the federal government but not specifying which agencies he now would put on the chopping block. 

Earlier in the forum, Perry took another pass on saying whether the United States should temporarily restrict legal immigration while the border is being secured. Perry instead shifted focus to what he called the current failure of the federal government to keep track of people already in the country unlawfully. 

The Manchester event — the Voters First presidential forum — was a response of sorts to the Cleveland debate, where eligibility is based on an average of the five most recent national polls as of 4 p.m. Tuesday. Debate sponsor Fox news will allow only the top 10 finishers on the stage, a criteria some Republican leaders in the Granite State have criticized as too exclusionary.

Among the candidates who may not make the cut Thursday: Perry, whose national polling has ticked downward over the past few days. Cruz, meanwhile, appears likely to qualify based on recent surveys.

Perry took advantage of the forum to hold a business roundtable earlier Monday in Salem. Along with two other senators running for president, Cruz spoke at the event via satellite from Washington, where Senate votes kept him from making the trip north. 

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